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April 14, 2011

Sex and Betrayal at the OK Chorale

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I’ve got this lovely piece of music in front of me and I am musing about loss of innocence in a post Thomas/Hill world.  It’s called “Matona, Lovely Maiden,” and I first heard it on a long playing LP of the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir.  I was probably eight years old.  On the album cover was a photograph of the children.  I listened to the record over and over, and stared at the faces, trying to imagine whose voice it was that stood out in this line, on that note, and who was the soprano whose partials floated to the top on that last note.

“Matona, Lovely Maiden” is an old war-horse of an Italian madrigal.  It has a recurring refrain of the “derry derry, dong dong.” variety.  The German kids sang “diri diri, don don”  in the original Italian.   The harmonies and rhythms are easy-ish and it seemed like a good choice after all the challenges of last quarter’s music. (

The OK Chorale has sung it once or twice in the past with no repercussions.  Maybe the last time, there were some snickers.  Last night we couldn’t get through it even once.


Matonna, lovely maiden, Oh, listen to the song;

We sing beneath thy window while night clouds roll along

Dong dong dong, derry derry, dong dong, dong dong


Sweet, no?  So far, so good.  The dongs still referred to bells in a majority of minds.


“I pray you hear my ditty, tis sweet and not too long.”

(The edges of the group began to crack.)


“Tis pointed, if not witty and sharpened as a prong.”

(Safe to say the dongs are no longer about bells.)


“The words of choicest tissue, to shoot .  .  .”

(This line was interrupted by an an implosion.)


I exchanged my piano glasses for ones that can distinguish faces.  The first face I saw was that of Maxine, a mother and grandmother, formerly a pastor’s wife and owner of a business called “Altars Everywhere,” a name which in this climate could no doubt acquire unintended associations.  Her face was crumpled in laughter and tears were running down her checks. (

“OK,” I thought.  “If Maxine can’t get through this for laughing, we’d better pack it in.”

We moved on to “All Around My Hat,” also one we have done before.  It’s an old Steeleye Span hit that I have arranged somewhat staidly because we all don’t have Maddy Prior’s instincts for rhythmic flourish.  When I am the arranger, the music is always a work in progress; I am continually finding typos and notes out of alignment.  When I get enough of a mess on any one page, I re-write it.

We found a couple of typos in last night’s rehearsal.  A minor skirmish broke out over the line-up of words to notes.   In verse one, we had a “false deluding woman”—six syllables—to parcel out to eight notes.  In verse two, we had a “false deluding young man” –-also six syllables to eight notes.   It wasn’t flowing.

I get no end of advice in these situations.  Pages rattled, basses leaned over to tap things out on their neighbor’s music, altos called out instructions to me.  The tenors tried to tie in the ding dongs so they could continue snickering.  (Do you know, the tenors, who sit farthest from the piano, all brought binoculars to a rehearsal once?  They are an unruly bunch.)

“You have the deluding young woman on the first beat but the deluding young man is on the second beat, that’s the problem,” someone said.

We had the only silence in the entire evening while everyone considered this.  It was broken by Sandi, author of Humor in the Workplace, who announced, “The deluding woman is not young.”

The Chorale exploded.  I looked at the clock.  Five more minutes.  No, really, I was enjoying myself.  It was a great beginning to the quarter.  Not too late to sign up.

Sadly, I will retire Matona and her dongs for good.  I wonder what those Obernkirchen kids are doing these days.


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